Last chance, Ursula! VDL given final warning as MEPs turn on EU chief – court battle looms

Brexit agreement has 'real teeth' says Ursula von der Leyen

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The Commission President has been graced with an extra four months of time to avoid legal actions by European Parliament members. MEPs had originally given Ms von der Leyen a June 1 deadline to act, threatening to take the Commission chief to court.

They then asked Parliament President David Sassoli to trigger Article 265 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

The protocol would see the Commission taken to court for failing to take action against “the growing risk of misusing the Union’s budget as means to deteriorate the Rule of Law in some Member States.”

In a note to President Sassoli, they said they “regret” the Commission not taking action “in the most obvious cases of the breaches of the Rule of Law in the EU”.

They added: “To be prepared, the EP shall in the meantime immediately start the necessary preparations for potential court proceedings under Article 265 of TFEU against the Commission.”

But on Thursday, they decided to give the Commission an extra four months to act.

The vote, approved by 505 MEPs, came after European Parliament vice-President Katarina Barley scolded the Commission over its inaction against Hungary and Poland.

Brussels has been locked in an ongoing dispute with the two countries over controversial legal reforms, which the EU claims endanger judicial independence.

The bloc has consequently launched proceedings in accordance with Article 7 of the EU’s constitution, which could theoretically see both sides lose their European Council voting rights unless they back down.

Both Poland, led by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, of the Law and Justice Party, and Hungary, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, of Fidesz, have long argued Brussels is attempting to punish both nations for having elected right-of-centre governments.

Hitting out at Ms von der Leyen’s reluctance to act firmly against the deteriorating state of Poland and Hungary’s judicial systems, Ms Barley said time was pressing to save the EU.

She warned: “We observe that, in general, the Commission does not act quickly enough and not consistently enough when it comes to violations of the rule of law.

“The most obvious example: the actions of the so-called disciplinary chambers in Poland.

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“They can punish judges and public prosecutors or even dismiss them. The European Court of Justice already ruled in April 2019 that these chambers are not allowed to ‘discipline’. But despite strong pressure from Parliament, the Commission initially did nothing for a long time.

“And when they did react recently, it consisted of a new letter to the Polish government requesting a statement.

“There was not even a threat of financial sanctions, which would have been possible without further ado.”

She continued: “In other words, we cannot trust that the Commission will act and care when it says it will.

“We now want to prevent that it will take forever before something will happen again. The Commission says that ‘no case is lost’.

“But if we look again at the example of Poland: judges and public prosecutors are harassed – some of them are transferred to the other end of the country or parts of their salaries are cut; they will be taken to court.

“This is happening now. And that cannot be healed afterwards.”

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